A Scorsese Search For Faith In Old Japan

The first weekend of the new year opens with a bumper crop of films from master directors. Almodovar adapts three Alice Munro stories. Jarmusch follows a week in the life of a bus driver and his town. And Scorsese follows a pair of missionaries searching in Tokugawa-era Japan for their missing mentor.

A Scorsese take on faith might not appeal to everyone. For those who want something more Asian and contemporary, there are a South Korean crime drama and a World War II action-comedy starring Jackie Chan. But the must-see in this category is a documentary about a mass rape in contemporary China.

Also worth a look this week is a dark fantasy centering on the relationship between a boy and a tree monster.

Hooligan Sparrow

“Hooligan Sparrow” is Chinese sex workers’ rights advocate Ye Haiyan’s nickname. Director Nanfu Wang’s documentary follows Ye and human rights lawyer Wang Yu’s campaign for justice in a notorious mass rape case. A principal and a member of the education bureaucracy defend their kidnapping and day-long raping of six pre-teen schoolgirls by falsely claiming their victims were teen prostitutes. Ye and Wang find the Chinese government seems more determined to harass them than ensure the schoolgirls get justice.

Opens January 6 at the 4-Star Theatre


Pedro Almodovar returns to female-centric films with this adaptation of three stories by Alice Munro. Middle-aged Julieta has not seen her missing daughter Antia in 12 years. A chance encounter with one of Antia’s old friends spurs Julieta to move back in to her old apartment. Julieta somehow hopes her daughter might contact her there. During her wait, the middle-aged woman writes a journal to her daughter. She also revisits her past to try to understand why their parent-child relationship went south.

Opens January 6 at the Clay Theatre


In this South Korean crime action film, a police investigation team squares off against a powerful corporation which might have committed a massive fraud. Kim Jae-Myung is the smart and aggressive head of an intellectual crimes investigation team. The team’s target is Won Network. Power at Won rests in two individuals: President Jin and Section Chief Park Jang-Goon. It’s Park who happens to be Won Network’s brains. In this fight between two very determined opponents, who will come out on top?

Opens January 6 at the AMC Van Ness 14 and the Century 20 Daly City

A Monster Calls

This adaptation of Patrick Ness’ award-winning novel is helmed by director J.A. Bayona (The Orphanage). 12-year-old Conor finds that bullying is the least of his life worries. His mother (Felicity Jones, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story) is gravely ill. His grandmother (Sigourney Weaver) is cold and imperious. His father has moved thousands of miles away and started a new family. But an unexpected ally arrives in the form of The Monster (Liam Neeson), a walking and talking yew tree. The Monster offers to aid Conor, provided some conditions are met. On three nights, the creature will tell the boy a story. On the fourth night, Conor must tell The Monster a story.

Opens January 6 at the AMC Bay Street 16, the AMC Van Ness 14, the Century 20 Daly City, the Century at Tanforan, the Embarcadero Center Cinemas, the Redwood Downtown 20, and the UA Berkeley 7


Paterson (Adam Driver) is a bus driver who lives and works in Paterson, New Jersey. His life is a simple one of driving his route, observing humanity, and secretly writing poetry. His wife Laura by contrast lives an ever-changing daily life. Director Jim Jarmusch observes both Patersons over the course of a week and finds joys and sorrows in the small details of life.

Opens January 6 at the Embarcadero Center Cinemas

Railroad Tigers

Hong Kong action film legend Jackie Chan headlines this World War II-era action-comedy. Ma Yuen (Chan) leads the Flying Tigers, a rural band of Chinese Robin Hood-like robbers harassing the invading Japanese military. When the Tigers learn about a town’s vital bridge which will allow the Japanese army to get their military equipment to the front lines, Ma and his men take the job of destroying that bridge. The robbers’ plan involves stealing Japanese explosives and a train. Yet it’s highly likely this job may be a suicide mission.

Opens January 6 at the 4-Star Theatre


Martin Scorsese finally realizes a nearly three-decade long dream to adapt Shusaku Endo’s acclaimed novel. Two Christian missionaries (Adam Driver and Andrew Garfield) travel to Japan to search for their missing mentor (Liam Neeson). However, in Tokugawa-era Japan, Christianity is outlawed and its practitioners tortured pressured to renounce their faith. The new Scorsese film ultimately considers whether the foundations of one Chrisitian’s faith are as sturdy as he believes. Be ready to be committed to this new Scorsese flick. It runs nearly 2 3/4 hours.

Opens January 6 at the Embarcadero Center Cinemas and the Sundance Kabuki Cinemas

Two Lovers And A Bear

Roman (Dane De Haan) and Lucy (Tatiana Maslany, Orphan Black) live in Iqaluit, Nunavut, a Canadian town near the North Pole. They’re a pair of emotionally damaged lovers who find comfort in the isolated and desolate surroundings. When Lucy announces she’s been accepted to a university biology program down South, she wants Roman to join her. Roman’s reluctance soon leads to the lovers eventually taking a wilderness trip to determine their compatibility sans distractions. But their traumatic pasts and a talking polar bear might influence the results.

Opens January 6 at the 4-Star Theatre

Videofilia (And Other Viral Symptoms)

Juan Daniel F. Molero directed Peru’s submission for an Academy Award. Out-of-school Internet-obsessed teen Luz meets aspiring porn dealer Junior online. The two teens eventually sexually connect. But as their relationship progresses, things get weird. Into their lives come talking guys in Gay Fawkes masks, living Furby dolls, and anime costume parties that go off the rails. What are Luz and Junior experiencing as reality and what experiences are digital simulations?

Opens January 6 at the Roxie Theater. Director Molero will make in-person appearances after the 7 PM shows on January 6 and 7.

About the Author

I’m a film reviewer for the Beyond Chron blog. Agnes Varda and Hirokazu Kore-eda are among my favorite filmmakers. I occasionally break down and watch a good action film…but don’t tell anyone.

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